God’s Adulterous Lover

Why Jesus Is My Hero #42 of 52

What kind of a God is God? And how does he feel about us and the way we treat him?

When we hear the word “sin” it’s easy to think in terms of broken rules or a general feeling of guilt about things we’re doing that we know we probably shouldn’t. But the Bible often talks about our sin using relational categories – it reminds us ultimately our sin is a rejection of God himself. When we love other things more than we love him – when we turn and start to rely on idols – from God’s perspective that’s no different from a wife cheating on her husband. It’s spiritual adultery.

One particularly hard-hitting passage that picks up on this relational view of sin is Hosea 2:

“Plead with your mother, plead–
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband–
that she put away her whoring from her face”

“For their mother has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully.
For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my bread and my water,
my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.'”

God sees his people turning aside from him and going after other gods, and it deeply grieves his heart like a husband discovering his wife has been giving herself to other men. The language here is the language of divorce proceedings: “she is not my wife, and I am not her husband” marking an end to the marriage relationship. Yet God is still pleading with his adulterous lover, Israel – still longing for her to turn back to him in repentance, rather than trusting in the pagan fertility gods – the Baals – that she’s started to rely on to provide for her needs.

What makes this scenario so tragic is that it was all so utterly unnecessary:

“And she did not know
that it was I who gave her
the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
which they used for Baal.”

It’s as though she was a prostitute working her trade in the upper room, as various men brought her payment, and she thought she was so clever and self-reliant for earning all this cash without having to depend on her husband. Only what she never realised was that all this time, those guys had been slipping in to her husband’s study downstairs and stealing £50 notes out of her husband’s drawer in order to pay her. The same supply of money that her husband had told her about on many occasions should she ever be in need, that she was welcome to help herself to at any time to provide for her. It was her husband who had been providing for her all along – it was his money they were using to pay for her services. If only she’d turned to her husband and looked to him, instead of thinking she could find what she wanted elsewhere.

That’s what makes our sinful idolatry so stupid and so utterly abhorrent. God our Creator is the only one who can really provide for our needs, and he longs to care for us and give us what we need. We can look elsewhere – to our education, to our wallets, to our relationships – to make us happy and protect us from evil, but ultimately all those things come from God in the first place. How it must grieve him to see us reject him for the things he has made.

Seeing sin in these relational categories makes it all the more amazing when we then recognise God’s grace towards us sinners. How incredible it is that he sticks with us, patiently persevering with his wayward wife. It’s a beautiful picture later in the Bible when we see Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom who laid down his life to present the church spotless and without blemish before him. It’s an amazing thing when a spouse forgives the one who has betrayed them so deeply and chooses to stick with them in spite of their adultery – and it should truly blow our minds when we remember that that’s exactly the way Jesus treats us, his people.

In Christ

Why Jesus Is My Hero #41 of 52

The further we go in the Christian life, the more conscious we become of what hopeless sinners we are. Any pretence that we could earn our way to God by our own efforts, and simply “trying harder” becomes very hard to maintain in the bitter face of experience. That’s why it’s such a joy to know that the Christian’s fate depends not on their own goodness and purity, but on Jesus’. The more we can lift our eyes off ourselves and onto him, the better. That’s why I started writing this series in the first place – to try and grow my own vision of Jesus.

The way the New Testament describes this is the idea of “union with Christ” – that we are in him. One place that describes this really clearly is Colossians 3:1-4:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

If we’re Christians, then through faith in Jesus we are united with him such that Paul can say “your life is hidden with Christ in God”. His future is our future. When Christ who is your life returns, we also will appear with him in glory. It’s a very different way of thinking for 21st Century Westerners like me, but it’s an awesome truth that gives such confidence and hope in the midst of life’s ups and downs.

The irony is that the more we focus on Christ and not on ourselves, God often works through that to change us so that we actually do become more holy. But that is the result not the cause of our salvation, meaning that it doesn’t become this anxious introspection of constantly wondering if we’ve done enough good to be right with God this morning. The Christian life should be one of confident assurance, joy and thankfulness at what God has already achieved. The fact that we don’t deserve our salvation at all just makes it all the more wonderful, if we’re humble enough to embrace the fact that we simply aren’t good enough to contribute anything except our need of it.

PrayerMate 1.3 – Introducing scheduled requests

PrayerMate is my app for iPhone and iPod Touch that is designed to help you stay faithful in prayer for the people and causes that matter to you. Today a new version went live on the App Store, version 1.3. It adds a couple of new features that I’m really excited about: scheduled prayer requests, and auto-archiving.

Scheduled Prayer Requests

Each day PrayerMate will pick a selection of prayer requests from your library for you to pray through. Traditionally it just picked whichever subjects you haven’t prayed for in a while. But we all know that there are certain things you just want to pray for at specific times – maybe you want to pray for the Sunday service every Sunday morning, or you want to pray for your friend on the morning of their job interview.

PrayerMate 1.3 allows you to do both of these things using scheduled prayer requests. When you enter a subject, you can choose the “scheduling mode”: either “Default”, which behaves as normal; “Day of the Week”, which lets you pick one or more days of the week on which you wish to pray for this subject; or “Date”, which lets you pick a specific date from a calendar.

For those who want to go a bit deeper into how it works, here are a few of the under-the-hood details: every day, PrayerMate will begin by looking for dated requests scheduled for today (e.g. 20th February). If there’s any space left for extra requests, it will then proceed to look up requests scheduled for the current day of the week (Monday). It will then fill up any remaining allocation using unscheduled requests, in the same order as they’ve always appeared. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t have so many dated or “day-of-the-week” requests that there’s never any space left for unscheduled requests.

PrayerMate gives you a little bit of flexibility on dated requests – if you don’t fire up the app on a given day, any scheduled prayer requests that you missed will show up for up to a week afterwards.


A related for separate feature is “auto-archived” prayer requests. Very often we want to pray for things which are time sensitive, and which cease to be relevant once a particular date has passed. With the new auto-archiving feature, you can tell PrayerMate to automatically move a subject to the archive after a certain date.

For example, if your friend is on a short term mission trip until Friday 16th March, create a new subject with 16th March in the auto-archive field, and on the 17th that subject will automatically get moved to the archive so that you no longer see it.

Get it on the app store today

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage

There are more than enough books in the world on the subject of marriage. Every man and his dog wants to have an opinion on the subject. One of the features of being engaged is that now suddenly you own a large number of those books, as everybody scrambles to buy you a copy of their favourite (thanks everybody! I really am grateful, honest!)

One of those books that really stands out for me is This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. As you might expect, Piper holds a very high view of marriage, and paints a Biblical vision of just how glorious marriage as God designed it should be. But one of the distinguishing features of this book is the equally high view of singleness you’ll find in it.

Piper’s main premise is that marriage is not the ultimate, it’s not the thing that’s going to solve all our problems and make us happy and fulfilled. It’s a glorious thing, yes, and it holds a special place in God’s purposes for displaying his glory, but it’s only ever a temporary thing that will not exist in the New Creation. Just as the relationship between a husband and his wife is a tangible illustration of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his church, happily-single Christians are a tangible illustration of the sufficiency of Jesus and the final state all who trust in him are heading towards. So at the same time as giving us a higher view of marriage, it also stops us making it the very highest thing in our thoughts, helping us keep first things first rather than drifting into idolatry.

Most books on marriage claim to be suitable for all kinds of people: people already married, people about to be married, and people vaguely thinking about marriage in the future. But in my experience, it’s rare to find a marriage book that I would genuinely want to recommend to a single friend for fear of making them feel a little bit sad – I know that I’ve often read stuff about marriage in the past and just been made to feel like I was missing out on something. This book bucks the trend. It reminds all of us, single or married, that as Christians we have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe that’s going to last for eternity, and that that ought to excite us more than any human relationship.

Of course Piper also explores the usual practicalities of marriage: the purpose and place of sex, the Biblical view of gender roles, brining up children, and so on. He does so in a way that gets you excited about serving God in whatever situation you’re currently in, with the gifts and personality God has given you. I found the chapter on hospitality especially helpful: Piper says what a shame it is that often married and single people in the church end up being segregated, when there’s so much potential for good if single people were to show hospitality to married people and if married people were to show hospitality to single people.

If you’re a Christian, whether you’re married or not, be excited that there’s someone in your life who knows you better than you know yourself, and who loves you enough to die for you – and we get to go and spend the rest of eternity in intimate relationship with him! Everything else is just temporary, but our relationship with God lasts forever.

Related posts: My review of ‘Redeeming Singleness’ by Barry Danylak – which is the basis for Piper’s chapter on singleness in ‘This Momentary Marriage’. It’s helpful stuff for single people wondering about their place in the church.

The Irony of the Forbidden Fruit

Somebody recently forwarded me an interesting post by Andy Harker on the symbolism of the bitten apple, often associated (at least in Western art and advertising) with sin, even a celebration of sin, and elicit pleasures, especially sexual.

“Do you see the great irony? The apple is not the forbidden fruit but the life of Christ. To eat the apple is not sin but salvation – the banquet of grace. How perverse we are to use a picture of Jesus as an advert for sin, to call good evil and evil good, to confuse the tree of life with the tree of death, to think that Jesus has come to steal and kill and destroy and the devil has come to give fullness of life when the little-know truth is the very reverse. Christ is the apple tree.”

Read the full article here.

How To Rejoice In All Situations

Why Jesus is My Hero #40 of 52

Real life is hard work. It’s full of ups and downs, and sometimes the downs are really down. Even when life is up we’re good at filling it with worries and anxieties about the fact that it might not stay that way for long, and that a down might be just around the corner.

I think many of us probably long to be the kinds of people who are better at rolling with the punches. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of “steadfastness”, which amongst other things conjures up images of not being discouraged when things don’t go your way – of standing firm whilst the waves crash all around you. But how do we get that way? How do we remain steadfast amidst the disappointments and challenges of daily life?

I’ve said before recently that I’m increasingly seeing the importance of joyfulness in life – and I think that for the Christian person, an attitude of joy and thankfulness is one of our key weapons in the fight. But how are we to remain joyful and thankful when tragedy strikes? How do you rejoice when you lose your job, or when you’re anxious about money or about your health?

It doesn’t completely answer the question fully, but one passage that I think is really helpful in thinking about this is Philippians 3. It’s one of the go-to passages on joy in the Bible:

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”

In other words, Paul is saying “I might as well tell you to rejoice, even if I’ve said it a hundred times before – I love talking about joy, so it’s really no trouble for me, and it’ll be really good for your souls, so hopefully you’ll not get bored of me banging on about it.”

Philippians is a letter written by Paul as he’s languishing in jail, so it’s somewhat surprising that he should be so focussed on rejoicing. So what is Paul’s secret – what is it that enables him to be rejoicing in the midst of his suffering? “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him”

For Paul, the gospel is THE number one most exciting thing in his life. His relationship with Jesus Christ is more precious to him than absolutely anything else. He’s so excited about the fact that he gets to spend eternity with Jesus, that absolutely everything else seems irrelevant by comparison. Stuck in jail because he’s a follower of Jesus? Totally worth it – he’s got an eternity of true freedom to look forward to. Hated by his fellow Jews because of apparently turning his back on the law? Who cares what men may think of him, when the creator of the entire universe loves him? Poor and destitute and whipped and beaten and shipwrecked and generally looking like a failure by the world’s standards? Hardly worth batting an eyelid over, given the heavenly riches he has to look forward to in the New Creation.

You see, when you recognise the immense value of the one thing you DO have, you start to care a little less about all those other things you lack. When Jesus becomes supremely precious to us, we find ourselves enabled to rejoice in the midst of all kinds of difficult circumstances. So long as our saviour is with us, our first love, we can accept a little temporary suffering and hardship – especially knowing that He is ultimately in charge and will not permit anything that isn’t for our eternal good.

I really hope and pray that you will find grace to rejoice and thank God for the gospel in the midst of whatever you’re going through right now. God is a good and loving Father to those who trust in him through Jesus Christ. I don’t know what you’re struggling with right now, but I do know that he’s promised to bring us to be with him if we’re Christians, and live with him in a world free from the sin and suffering that so mars this world.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Now that’s something to rejoice in!